Saturday, March 5, 2016

So, What Now?


It's now been months since I polished off and posted the 2001st bottle, the obvious question has been and remains "So, what now?" More than a handful of friends have asked if I'm going to re-set the goal and go for another 2001 bottles. Without fail, my answer has been - and will continue to be - an emphatic "NO!"

The last thing I'm prepared to do is commit myself to a specific goal or a fixed format. Unlike any Hollywood movie that reaches an audience first time around, there will be no sequel odyssey for me - despite the fact that even the original 2001 odyssey came back with 2010.

I'm thinking I need a little space. There are plenty of wines and stories out there to be discovered - and maybe written about - but I've yet to decipher a path for my involvement.

I'm confident that there will be some form of involvement - even if all I do is to continue learning about wines, winemakers and regions as we polish off a bottle here or there.

For the moment though, I think I'm just going to reflect on the past six and a half years and see if any interesting, new paths appear.

Until then, here's to all the marvellous wines out there waiting to be enjoyed.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The 2001st Bottle - Quite the Odyssey


Six and a half years later and here we are: time to add the 2001st - and, therefore, final - wine to The List. As the journey behind this blog has always been to celebrate the places and the people that we sipped away at and with, I think it's fitting that we reach our goal with a very special gathering of our Dinner Club.

I've personally been in a dinner club of one sort or another since university days - and that's over 30 years ago. However, our current gang (with a few changes along the way as significant others appeared and one couple retired from the club) is coming up on twenty years. Indeed, one of my earliest posts on this Odyssey was at a Dinner Club gathering at Chez Tyrant.

And the memory of that dinner and others makes tonight's feast and post all the more special. Not only am I able to pull the cork on the "last" bottle but I get to share it with friends who have been with me all along the journey. Further, we all got to raise our glasses in a heartfelt toast to Tyrant - our dear friend who passed away a couple of weeks ago. I know Tyrant was looking forward to the 2001st bottle almost as much I was because we'd been talking about pulling a few special treats from his cellar. And I do mean "cellar" in Tyrant's case. As a little example, he'd generously brought along a bottle of 1982 Grange to my 50th birthday party and it remains one of the most memorable wines I've been fortunate enough to enjoy. Unfortunately, that bottle was before I'd started the blog and, therefore, not on The List.

I'll never know the wine Tyrant had tentatively earmarked for tonight's dinner but we all managed to find a few noteworthy bottles for the occasion to knock back with him in mind.

N.V. Lanson Black Label Brut (Champagne AOC - France)

2014 Domaine L'Ostal Cazes Rosé (Pays d'Oc IGP - France)

It turns out that we had more than enough wines this evening to reach bottle number 2001. So, it was of no concern that our first two wines were ones that had already been added to The List. One of the "rules" that I had set out for myself at the start of the blog was that I couldn't add the same vintage of the same bottle more than once to The List. Lanson Black is one of my favourite Champagnes and, being a non-vintage wine, the first bottle of this baby made it to the blog long ago.

The Rosé was a recent discovery but a pleasant one all the same. The wine had been recommended at a local government liquor store when I was picking up wines for this year's Giro di Burnaby viewing party. It was a hit then and I'm more than happy to join in on a glass whenever it shows up. I often tried to avoid revisiting a bottle that I'd previously enjoyed simply because I wouldn't be able to add it to The List. Guess that won't be so much of a concern anymore.

Tonight's Dinner Club was being hosted by Lady Di and She Who Must Be Obeyed and the menu was classically inspired as Lady Di was looking to put some of the skills she'd been picking up at various cooking classes to good use.

On any normal evening, I could have easily been sated with the bubbly, the Rosé and the fresh burata served with the tastiest of heirloom tomatoes. As if that was ever going to be the full extent of a Dinner Club though.

1997.  2013 William Fevre - Petit Chablis (Petit Chablis AOC - Burgundy - France)

Unoaked Chardonnay and Oysters Motoyaki. I don't think anything else needs to be said. Seafood, acidity, cream.

I mentioned Lady Di was going after some classic dishes and pairings tonight. Two for two so far in my book.

1998.  2007 Rolf Binder - Heinrich Shiraz Mataro Grenache (Barossa Valley - Australia)

1999.  2008 Langmeil Orphan Bank Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

It turned out that our wine choices were a little more red-centric than the menu was but that can happen when we all take such pleasure in not disclosing the Dinner Club's bill of fare in advance. The Gazpacho wouldn't normally scream big, juicy reds, but there wasn't a single complaint to be heard until there was no more wine to be poured. I suppose it goes to show that sometimes an unforeseen pairing can work out far more favourably than you might expect.

Then again, it's entirely possible that these two wines could have been paired with a slice of toast and some Vegemite and we still would have raved. Langmeil is another favourite of mine - although we don't usually splurge on the more premium Orphan Bank Shiraz. If I had to pick an Aussie house wine (and was only allowed to spend $30), the Langmeil Valley Floor Shiraz would very likely be my first choice. The Orphan Bank is just that much more layered and nuanced.

I don't think I'd tried the Heinrich before but this is a GSM (or SMG) blend that brother and sister winemakers, Rolf and Christa Binder, named in memory of their father. I don't know if Jeaux and Matinder were aware of that fact when they chose this wine but it seems uniquely appropriate for a Dinner club in Tyrant's memory.

With these two wines, there was no doubt that we were partying like it was 1999 - because, indeed, this course served up bottle #1999 on The List.

2000.  2003 Baron Philippe de Rothschild - Cabernet Sauvignon (Vin de Pays d'Oc - France)

The next step to happiness was beef tenderloin - cooked to order - served with baked kale and mushrooms in a wine reduction. The girls definitely had a challenging go of it with the timing on the cook of the beef since they had to juggle Jeaux and Matinder's penchant for blue steak through to Boo's more pedestrian medium cook.  But, of course, they were more than up to the task and my rare-medium-rare arrived spot on.

The tenderloin was paired (by happenstance) with two Rothschild wines - albeit from slightly different ends of the spectrum. It's a rare occasion that I get to try a $15 bottle side-by-side with its more well-heeled "cousin."  While Tyrant likely had some actual Mouton Rothschild in his cellar, a bottle of Le Petit Mouton was the best that I could come up with for the occasion.

2001.  2006 Mouton Rothschild - Le Petit Mouton (Pauillac AOC - Bordeaux - France)

As I knew this bottle would officially be number 2001 on The List, I was hoping for a bit of "knock 'em out of the park" sip. The Wine Advocate declared that "the 2006 Le Petit Mouton is the finest example of this cuvée I have tasted." The winemaker noted, "Aromas of berry fruit, vanilla and spice reflect its great complexity. Round, lush, full-bodied and supported by fine tannins, it is long and ample on the palate."

Not too bad as far as pedigrees and reviews go. Amen to that. Sounds like just the wine to hit the blog's final target and goal with.

Funny thing is that, the Petit Mouton didn't really speak to anyone at our table - even when paired with the tenderloin. The wine might be right on point for the pros but, as much as we might have wanted it to, it didn't titillate our palates - at least not to the extent that many of the other wines gracing our table did.

I suppose that's part of the joy of trying wines of every stripe. The best way to discover a wine that moves you is the try as many as you can.

2001+  2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti - Crognolo Toscana (Toscana IGT -Tuscany - Italy)

2001+  2010 Fontanafredda - Serralunga D'Alba Barolo (Barolo DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

As previously mentioned in this post, some of the night's pairings weren't what you'd call classic. By the time our dessert of Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta with chocolate pebbles arrived, we were down to a couple of big Italian reds - a Supertuscan and a Barolo. I suppose that the unorthodox pairing was of no concern though. By now, we were simply taking in the evening and these beauties were bonus wines for The List anyhow.

Noticing that the wines had been poured as a trio of national pairings, we held a little poll of the table. The Aussies came out on top as our favourite wines of the evening, followed by the Italians and then the French. Not that there was any grand international tasting or bragging rights at stake. After all, there were (surprisingly) no Okanagan wines poured with dinner.

So, the latest round of the Dinner Club came to a close - as has the formal task of this blog. Having added the 2001st wine to The List, I now get to take some time and decide the direction the blog might take in the future. It's been quite the Odyssey. No doubt about it.

The wines. The people. The events.

It's made for an incredible adventure and, to be honest, a whole lot more work than I'd ever envisioned when I decided to upload that very first post. Drinking the wine was easy. No doubt about that. Writing the posts was a whole other exercise. Boo has called himself a "blog widow" for years - and there's a lot a truth to that.

And so, as I happily brace myself to hit the "Publish" and finish The List and my formal Wine Odyssey, I figure this won't be the end of the blog. It will definitely take a different - and not so demanding - structure but I'm hardly done with my love of wine. And that indulgence and amusement is something that will still drive me to put finger to keyboard now and then.

In the meantime, I need to send out big bouquets of gratitude to everyone who's encouraged, commented on, participated in - and endured (right Boo?) - my indulgence. It's been the most extraordinary learning experience.

I toast all of you.

And, as a final act of appreciation, I raise my glass to Tyrant. Having shared his humour, his generousity, his friendship and many a fine wine, it's a joy to share the 2001st bottle with you in mind. I wish you'd been there in person but you were definitely there in our hearts and minds. Skoal, dear friend.




Friday, September 4, 2015

Expressing One's Inner-Italian

An old card I kept on my fridge went "I always cook with wine - sometimes I even put it in the food." 

Tonight wasn't such an occasion. It was an evening of peeling, dicing, crushing, saucing and canning 40 pounds of tomatoes. No wine was added to the actual tomato sauce - however, the cooks certainly took regular breaks for a sip from the glass.

Naturally, given we were cooking tomatoes, we endeavoured to tap into our inner-Italian - although truth be told, neither Boo, nor I, have any Italian blood coursing through our veins. Given that, I figured the occasion at least called for an Italian wine.

A second consideration in the wine choice - and for those who have been following the last so many posts you'll already know - was to pick a wine from the cellar that would, hopefully, be worthy of being one of the final wines to be added to The List on this Odyssey.

1996.  2003 La Spinetta - Vürsù Vigneto Valeirano (Barbaresco DOCG - Piedmont - Italy)

With thousands of Italian wineries to discover, we were fortunate to be pointed in La Spinetta's direction by the good folk at Marquis Wine Cellars.  Back in '08, Boo and I had planned an Italian vacation as a second honeymoon and we'd been tipped off that most wineries in Italy require appointments before you can visit and taste. La Spinetta was on the Marquis "Don't Miss" list. We took them at their word and weren't disappointed.

Naturally, having become fans of La Spinetta and their modern, premium approach to winemaking, we no longer see any of their wines on local shelves. Luckily, we still had a bottle tucked away in the cellar.

The Spinetta estate was only established in 1977 - a relative baby by Italian standards - and it climbed to "superstar" status with its introduction of state-of-the-art machinery and attention to production detail. The winery initially produced only a Moscato. It started adding reds in the 80's with the introduction of a Barbera and then upped the ante with a formerly unheard of Barbera/Nebbiolo blend. The mid-90's saw the inaugural production of Barbaresco and that brings us to tonight's bottle. Valeirano is one of three single vineyard Barbarescos that La Spinetta currently produces and they are definite stars in the portfolio.

I'll simply say that this was one heckuva wine to cook with - at least for the cooks. While  I'm sure it would have imparted a grandness had we added some to a batch of the tomatoes, there was no way we were putting this rich baby into the sauce. With an intensity of body and integrated tannins, the winery's Spec Page says that 2003 vintage can likely be aged up to 30 years. We obviously didn't wait that long but I think the decade we gave the bottle was sufficient time to harmonize the big flavours.

Down the road, I may not be blogging all our bottles to the same extent. I think, however, that I may have to put fingers to keys should I run across some more Spinetta wines. You know I'll be keeping an eye open for them.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Artful Chard

If you've been reading this last series of posts, you've likely noticed that I've been pulling some of our bigger guns out of the cellar for these final bottles to close out The List before I hit the 2001st wine. Tonight's wine definitely fits the bill of a "big gun." We've only got one bottle and that's because I've only ever seen one bottle for sale in a shop - and that was in New York City. I don't know that anyone carries it in Vancouver - and, even if someone did, I'd be afraid to see what price it comes in at.

I think it's fair to say that the Vancouver market has never seen many Margaret River wines on a regular basis. The region has been one that I've always had a fondness for though - ever since I tried and quite liked a bottle while I was in Australia in 1996. I returned to Vancouver and could only find two or three bottles from the region in our city and, naturally, that was at one of the premium wine shops. I tried another of the district's wines. Enjoyed it. And, with the region being two for two, I've always had a positive outlook on the region's wines.

That being said, I've been holding on to tonight's bottle for an "occasion." I think hitting #1995 on The List qualifies.

1995.  2004 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River - Australia)

Leeuwin Estate is family owned and operated and, with its bevy of national and international accolades and awards, is one of the - if not the - pre-eminent wineries in the Margaret River region. Unlike some other Aussie wine regions - like the Barossa - winemaking in Margaret River didn't really get started until the 1970's. Indeed, it was only in 1969 that Leeuwin Estate was one of the five founding wineries in the Margaret River district located to the south of Perth in Western Australia. Leeuwin, however, didn't actually make any vintage wines for release until 1978. It's been all uphill from there.

Making three separate labels, Leeuwin's Art Series wines are their "most opulent and ageworthy" wines. The first vintage of Art Series Chardonnay was 1980 and it arrived on the scene with a declaration by Decanter magazine that it was the best Chardonnay in the world in 1982.

My introduction to Leeuwin's Art Series Chardonnay was at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society tasting in Vancouver that involved a blind tasting of fifteen or so Chardonnay's from around the world. Leeuwin's was, by far, the favourite wine of the evening - including my score card. However, as much as I kept an eye open for it, I could never find a bottle of the wine until that New York wine shop.

The region has continued to have a romanticized hold on me though and, when Boo and I made a trip back to Australia in 2012, we decided to travel out to Perth for a quick venture down to Margaret River with Merlot Boy and Margarita. We managed to fit in a dinner at Leeuwin and finally added a bottle of the Art Series Chard to The List - along with a couple other Leeuwin wines.

It's now time to add a second vintage to The List before this Odyssey peters out.

We had quite the scare opening this bottle though. The cork broke on me while I was pulling it out and I couldn't help but worry that, if the cork was faulty, the wine might be faulty as well. There was a heavy sigh of relief though after the first taste. The wine was still rich and velvety on the tongue. There was noticeable, although refined, oaking and some subtle hints of tropical fruit still shone through.

A rare treat but oh so enjoyable. There haven't been many wines on my journey that have as hallowed a history as the Art Series Chardonnay but isn't that exactly why we try to experience as many different wines and regions as we can. It makes those special occasions all that more special.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Iconic Friends Deserve Iconic Wines

From the start of this blog and Odyssey, a major focus was always going to be who we drank our wines with and the occasions where we drank the bottles. It's definitely fitting that we were able to schedule a dinner with Elzee this close to hitting the 2001st bottle. We know very well that it's almost inevitable that, every time we get together with the lovely and talented Elzee, there's likely going to be great food and equally fine wine.

I'm happy to say that this occasion was no different - even though this was a simple, spur-of-the-moment invite to our place.

1993.  2014 Orofino Moscato Frizzante (Similkameen Valley)

When I look back on all the wines that have made up the 2001 bottles, I'm sure there will be more Orofino wines on The List than all but a handful of wineries. Boo and I have been fans of the "straw-bale winery" pretty much since Day 1. We were lucky to discover Orofino very early in its existence as its owners, growers, winemakers, proprietors (and likely everything else needed), John and Virginia Weber, presented some of their first vintage at a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting of wines from the, at that time, new on the scene Similkameen Valley.

Although its now been around for a handful of vintages, Moscato Frizzante is one of Orofino's newest wines. It is also a very popular one as it arrived as a playful, easy drinking Moscato with a splash of Riesling and Pinot Gris that brings out an acidity to counter the fruity and floral base of Moscato. In a region that really only started to make a name for itself in the last decade, t's a bit of a surprise that much of the fruit for the wine comes from Muscat vines are over 25 years old now. The fruit from those established vines, planted on Orofino's home vineyard, is augmented with grapes from the neighbouring Hendsbee vineyard, those vines having been more recently planted around 2009.

The carbonation is measured; there isn't an abundance of fizz or mousse but the slightly off-dry palate makes the wine an excellent start to an evening. As it did for us.

I think the Okanagan Valley has established itself as a premium region for producing more serious, traditional even, Champenoise-styled sparkling wines (just look at Blue Mountain, Stellars Jay, Tantalus and Summerhill) but there's a new breed of bubbly that's starting to emerge and Orofino's Moscato is definitely helping to lead the way.

1994.  2008 Clarendon Hills - Astralis (McLaren Vale - Australia)

As I journey along this Odyssey and learn more and more about wine, one of the most valuable lessons has been about the pairing of food and wine - to bring out the best attributes of both simultaneously. One of the biggest discoveries I encountered was that we "drank red but ate white." I now try much harder to match whites, rosés and lighter reds with many of our dinners while saving our beloved big reds for meatier occasions. That re-adjustment of my pairing habits over the years has definitely increased our pleasure of the wine we're drinking.

That being said, tonight's pairing does not follow any of that logic. An Aussie Shiraz isn't likely the best sip to pair with mussels - even if there are yam frites and chipotle mayo alongside - but I wanted to dip into the cellar for one of our landmark wines for this near "List-ending" bottle with Elzee.

I decided on a bottle of Astralis - although I can't say that I've tried it before or knew much about the winery. Astralis has been called an Aussie cult wine - particularly after wine critic, Robert Parker (love him or hate him) wrote in 1996, "This is the hottest wine in Australian wine circles, as it came out ahead of two great vintages of Henschke and Penfolds' Grange in a recent tasting. If readers can believe it, it is a bigger denser, more concentrated wine than the Grange." The bottle was another extravagance of one of Boo's border crossing jaunts and it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

 Clarendon Hills is a small (by Australian standards), family run winery and Astralis is the flagship wine of the Clarendon Hills portfolio. Roman Bratasiuk founded winery in 1990, 40 miles south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale district and he immediately imprinted himself with a reputation as a bit of a maverick, starting with the fact that he calls his Astralis a Syrah instead of the ubiquitous Shiraz that is so associated with Aussie wine. Bratasiuk is one of the original pioneers of single vineyard wines in Australia. His first vintage of wines were single vineyard and that was rather unheard of in Aussie winemaking circles at the time. The winery now produces up to 19 single vineyard cuvées in its portfolio and his goal has been to express the varied terroir of McLaren Vale as opposed to gunning for the biggest, baddest fruit bomb possible. Indeed, the winery produces as many as seven single vineyard Syrahs annually.

The 1994 vintage was the first Australian wine to sell for $100 a bottle and, unfortunately, it hasn't gotten any cheaper. However, it is still substantially cheaper than a bottle of Grange - if you can even find it in our Vancouver market - and any bottle like this is going to be a special occasion in our household. Like when you're breaking bread with a dear friend and drinking one of the last bottles to be added to your List of 2001.

I'll have to admit that the wine wasn't nearly as fruit forward as I would have expected for an iconic Aussie Shiraz - but I guess that was the point. It is an Aussie Syrah after all. We might have opened it a tad early as Parker's Wine Advocate originally reported that this "Astralis is very young and primary promising much more to come! Consider drinking it from 2015 to 2025+" but I definitely lean towards fruit on the palate with my wines. So, drinking it a bit earlier in its lifetime is not out of the question for me as the fruit profile of a wine tends to diminish as it ages. Besides, waiting seven years for a bottle of wine is a tough task and we were within the suggested window.

Dinner was concluded with one of Boo's homemade apple pies; however, we didn't need to worry about overpowering the pie by the wine. The Astralis was long gone by the time the pie appeared. I'd blame it on Elzee scarfing all the wine but that's about as likely as me jumping into Another 2001 Bottles - The Sequel. Hopefully, there will be plenty more dinners with Elzee and multiple iconic wines but I'm guessing they won't be documented so regularly in a blog - at least not mine.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Bottle for a Theatrical Picnic


It's been over a decade since Boo and I have taken in one of the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) shows at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park and almost as long since we last had a picnic by Beaver Lake. Luckily, we get to remedy both those absences tonight as we threw together a quick alfresco basket to enjoy before making our way through the park to watch Hairspray.

It wasn't the most leisurely picnic but we had just enough time to finish off our wine and get to our seats slightly before all those theatrical juices started coursing away.

1992.  2007 Jarvis Estate - Lake William (Napa Valley)

Given the occasion, I pulled a wine that supposedly has a good pedigree - even though I wasn't familiar with either the wine or the producer. It's a rare enough occasion when I'll buy a $100+ wine (at least one that costs that much after the conversion from US bucks) - let alone one that I haven't tasted before. But, this Jarvis Estate blend was one that Boo had grabbed during a Washington state Costco run. Despite the fact that he's "technically" placed me on a "No Buy Leash" for some time now, he can go a little off the rails himself when it comes to Cabs.

I figure, if we can't pull out a big gun with less than ten bottles to go before reaching the blog's goal, when will there ever be an occasion that rates a little sumtin' sumtin' extra?

A mix of Napa-grown Bordeaux grapes, the 2007 vintage was a blend of Cab Sauv (39%), Merlot (38%) and Cab Franc (21%), with a splash of Petit Verdot (2%). The wine could well have stood up to a much bigger repast than we'd thrown together. There was more than enough dark fruit on the palate, however, to lend itself to simple (if hearty) sipping as we watched the sun setting over bucolic scene of Beaver Lake.

Although we haven't visited Jarvis Estate, it appears to have quite the stunning setting as well. According to the winery website, Jarvis was the first winery in the US to "tunnel a cave so large that it could hold the entire winemaking operation." That's 45,000 square feet of tunnel in the Vacas Mountains just east of downtown Napa. Sounds like it's definitely worth a visit should we find ourselves down that way again.

As for finding ourselves at TUTS again, the pure joy that is Hairspray just emphasized the point that we'd been away from the annual outdoor shows for too long. There won't be any need to blog any accompanying wine, but I'll have to remember to check out the scheduling of next summer's shows.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Star for the Gulf Islands

Here we are down to the final ten wines before we reach the titular 2001st bottle. To kick off these "last" wines, I'm going to the Gulf Islands and to Sea Star - a new(ish) venture of owner, David Goudge, and winemaker, Ian Baker. I was excited to see that Sea Star's initial vintage from 2013 was as well received as it was. The winery entered the 2014 Northwest Wine Summit competition and came away with two gold medals, a silver medal and a "Winery of Distinction" accolade as one of only 16 wineries to win two gold medals.

Some of my initial attraction to Sea Star stems from the fact that, off and on, I've known David for many a year, crossing paths at various community and fundraising events and even the odd party or so. To see an acquaintance "burst" onto the local wine is great thrill.

The fact that the winery is located on Pender Island was equally exciting because it means we might be able to fit in a visit every so often seeing as how Axel and The English Doc have set up house not far from the Sea Star's home vineyard. Indeed, spending Thanksgiving with the boys last year was how we managed to pick up some Sea Star wines. The winery was virtually sold out of its initial vintage but David managed to find a couple of wines for us to buy.

1991.  2013 Sea Star Stella Maris (Gulf Islands)

It's not much of a surprise that the bulk of Sea Star's limited production is white wine. Pender Island is a cool, coastal climate and - until the warming effects of global climate change have run their full course - there won't be much in the way of big, international reds. Indeed, "coastal" is as apt a descriptor as you'll find. As far as David knew at the time of our visit, Sea Star is the only winery in Canada where the vineyard actually runs down to and touches the ocean. The winery has sections of Pinot Noir planted in the warmest parts of the vineyard but the first vintage of a varietal Pinot Noir is still some time away as the vines were still maturing to a point where the fruit is deemed good enough to result in a fully representative Pinot.

Stella Maris, which is Latin for "Star of the Sea," is a blend of Gewürztraminer and (that young) Pinot Noir "with a splash of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Ortega and Schönberger" (as the winery describes the wine). Nicely dry but with plenty of tree fruit and a bit of spice, it's a wine that easily disappears from your glass and matches nicely to full array of foods.

With the "final" bottle of this Odyssey so quickly approaching, I have no idea about where the blog might head or what might be in store. I am, however, sure that I'll be making effort to pay another - and longer - visit to Sea Star.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Boyz en Blanc - Tripping the White Fantastic


Launched in Paris 27 years ago, Dîner en Blanc has now expanded to 50-plus cities on five continents and, this evening, it's celebrating its fourth anniversary in Vancouver. Boo and I missed the inaugural event but, including tonight, we've now made the last three shows.

The simplest description of DEB is that guests "flash-gather" in a high-profile, public location and set up a chic dinner party, revelling in the iconic setting. With all the participants decked out in their sharpest white outfits and all the tables decorated completely in white, it's become one of the hardest tickets in the city to get.

With the ability of past guests to invite friends, Boo and I have been able to increase our table from the original two to four to this year's eight. Following our meeting the other week, the courses and table details were divvied up and, despite some rather annoying logistical issues with finding our designated location and collecting our wine, we finally managed to pop the cork on our bubbly and settle in for a six course extravaganza.

1987.  N.V. Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial (Champagne AOC - France)

Knowing that this blog's task of reaching wine #2001 was nearing its climax, I started the gang off with the premium choice among the sparkling wines available for the evening. After all our initial frustrations, the classic bubble with a quartet of caviars was exactly what we needed to get re-grounded and re-set the mood for the evening.

Unfortunately, we were late to the table and didn't get a chance to wander or explore the venue. This year's secret location was the "deck" below the sails of the old Trade and Convention Centre. So, unlike previous years, the narrow deck location meant that we couldn't see all of our 4,500 dining companions. That was the biggest disappointment of the evening for Boo and I. Despite its spectacular view, this year's location just didn't seem to have same group cachet as before.

Good thing our menu was equal to - or surpassed - that of any of the other tables in our vicinity.

1988.  2014 Chartron La Fleur Sauvignon Blanc (Bordeaux AOC - France)

The Sauv Blanc doesn't sport quite the pedigree as the Moët does but it matched nicely with the Tuna and Scallop Ceviche accented with fresh peaches, lime, basil and cayenne. By the time we were on this second course, a number of the tables around us were already finishing up with their meals. They must have been newbies. Some of these millennials might have more energy than us old folk, but they still need to learn that slow and easy can still win the odd race.

1989.  2014 La Vieille Ferme Rouge (Ventoux AOC - Rhône - France)

Our next course of a trio of pâtés was paired with the Rhône blend. Duck with Fig, Duck with Black Truffle and Venison with Cranberry were served along with Cornichons, Prosciutto di Parma, Dijon and baguette. This course alone would have out-paced many of the main plates around us - but we, of course, made it clear that we were still on the appies.

Our extensive menu and leisurely pace did mean that we still had a good portion of our dinner to go when the traditional lighting of the sparklers was announced. Ah well, we needed a bit of a stretch before we sat down for the main course anyhow.

1990.  2012 Terrazas de los Andes - Reserva Malbec (Mendoza - Argentina)

As the evening was getting a little long in the tooth, we picked up the pace a bit though.  A few of our dining companions were starting to close up shop and call it a night. That just meant they had to leave with their mouths watering as they passed our Barbecued Duck with Red Plum Compote, Saffron Basmati Rice and Buttered Peas & Corn Niblets.

By the time we started serving up the desserts, we were offering tastes to neighbouring tables - particularly since we had another trio: Crème Brûlée, Prosecco Raspberry Gelée and Macarons.

Not to mention the cheese course that followed. By then, we were carrying our platter to various tables to offer a little night cap to the neighbours. To be nice - and to allow Mr. D. and Soolu to slyly check out some of the other diners.

As tasty as the dinner was and as fine as the company was, this year's DEB didn't seem as special as years past. In retrospect, we might have been a little over-ambitious with our menu. We were definitely one of the very last tables - of a couple thousand - with food going strong at the end of the evening. Moreover, though, I think it was the large degree of separation we felt from all the other participants. The sense of community - that was so evident in previous years - just seemed to be lacking.

Of course, how can you go wrong with a dinner view like we had?

I'm sure we'll return next year - even if the blog's wine countdown will be well behind me. Our planning may need a little re-jigging but the reality of it all is when else will we be able to sport all of these white duds that we've assembled?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Intensity With That Port?

As long as Boo has been working in the same job, he's still not high enough up in the seniority rankings to rate extended vacation time during the summer. Consequently, we weren't able to join in with some of the family as they cruised to Alaska. We did get to hear some of the tales over dinner upon their return, however, and that led to a couple bottles of wine at our place afterwards.

1985.  2013 Mistaken Identity - Intensity (BC VQA - Okanagan Valley)

Mistaken Identity is an organic vineyard and winery that set up shop on Salt Spring Island and released its first wines in 2009. Although perhaps not "mistaken," the identity of this Cab Franc is a little mysterious. Boo and I visited the winery once (when cavorting with Tyrant on Salt Spring) and I know that they grow largely white grapes there. They certainly weren't trying to grow Cab Franc. Indeed, I rather doubt that any of the Gulf Islands are able to fully ripen any of the big red varieties; hence, the grapes for this wine were sourced from the southern Okanagan Valley. The wine was still produced in a manner to comply with VQA rules and the label advises that the grapes were also grown organically (so as to stay in sync with the balance of the home vineyard grapes), but the wine doesn't have much more of a connection with the Gulf Islands.

A simple search online didn't reveal much more about the wine either.  I did discover, however, that the winery has since been listed for sale and may well have been sold by now. So, we may not run across any Mistaken Identity down the road.

1986.  1997 Broadbent Port (Portugal)

Like Mistaken identity, Broadbent is also a relatively new producer - although "relatively new" in the world of Port can still be decades. There's no mistaking the identity of this wine though as the Broadbent name comes from the father and son team of Michael and Bartholomew Broadbent. The former has been the Chairman of Christie's International Wine Department and his son has made a name for himself as one of the "world's top authorities on Port and Madeira."

The first Broadbent Port was produced in 1994 and the pedigree of the Broadbent name was solidified when they asked winemaker Dirk Niepoort to do the honours for them. The Niepoort family has been in the wine business since 1842 and knows a thing or two about making wine, particularly Port.

The 1997 was only the second declared vintage for Broadbent and their overall production is limited as they only make about 500 cases a year.

We came across this bottle when a client was downsizing his home and he needed to divest himself of some of his home assets because his new house wouldn't have enough space for everything. I refer to the bottle as being part of the "Carpet Collection" because Boo wanted to buy a couple of the Persian carpets that the client was selling. That meant, however, given the nature of tit-for-tat, that I got to buy some of the Port that was up for sale. Two carpets. Twelve bottles of Port. I think I let Boo off easy - and we all get to enjoy both the carpets and the Port for many days to come.

I think it particularly comes in handy when the family just pops in for a bit a tongue-wag session. Even if we didn't get to go on the cruise, we can enjoy a little vintage time of our own.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Sparkling Farewell With Miss Jaq


Once again, our beloved Miss Jaq is leaving us and heading to the other side of the globe for work; however, of all places, this time she's taken a principal's position in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. With Bahrain and Abu Dhabi already in her portfolio, the whole Middle East scenario shouldn't faze her too much. After all, Jeddah is perhaps the most liberalized city in Saudi Arabia but even she's wondering how different the extremely conservative, religious positioning of Saudi society will be from the relative Westernization of the UAE. Boo and I will have to wait to hear the stories this time around since there's no chance that two men could visit a single woman in Saudi when they aren't immediate family - not to mention the whole gay thing.

We always try to have the Annual Miss Jaq Wine Picnic. Indeed, there are more than a couple editions that have added bottles to The List on this blog; however, this summer, Charles and I had been away some and Miss Jaq's position came up so quickly, we weren't able to fit our little wine and dine extravaganza into everyone's schedule. At least we were able to do a little bubbly before our sweetie had to fly off to the dessert.

1983.  N.V. Charles Melton Sparkling Shiraz (Barossa Valley - Australia)

This time around, we could only manage a Sunday morning gathering, but there was no way that we couldn't have some sort of wine event this summer with Miss Jaq. So, Sunday morning or not, we popped the cork on some Sparkling Shiraz to remind her of what she'll largely be missing over the next so many months.

Sparkling Shiraz is a bit of a rarity - even for Boo and I - and I'm not always convinced that it's a style that's entirely necessary. But trust the Aussies to find a way to serve up a chilled, full-bodied red to battle the heat of a hot day down under. This was still fruit forward - like a big Aussie Shiraz can be - but it also had a bit more effervescence than I've tended to see other versions. Not exactly vintage Champagne but it worked just fine for the garden setting.

The winery website tells a neat story about how Graeme Melton arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1973 when he and a mate were driving across Australia and their car broke down. "There were two jobs going - one as a cellarhand at a local winery...and another pruning at a vineyard down the road. They flipped a coin - Graeme got the cellar hand job." He ended up working with and honing his skills under Peter Lehmann - who would later become a legend in the Barossa. However, "Lehmann refused to call his protegé 'Graeme,' hence 'Charlie' was born - and has stuck."

In 1984, the Charles Melton winery was established and it has since gone on to become known for its premium Rhône-style reds. Indeed, the winery doesn't even make any white wine. They now produce approximately 15.000 cases annually in total, with most of those bottles being some combination of Rhône grape varieties. While I'm not so sure that you'll find a Sparkling Shiraz produced in the Rhône, there's something to be said about Aussie ingenuity.

During the 80's when many farmers were pulling out their old Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre vines under a government replacement program, Charlie was known as one of the Barossa winemakers who encouraged those farmers and vineyard manager to embrace and treasure those old vines and forego the planting of more fashionable varieties. Hence the winery's ability to showcase all their big Rhône-styled wines.

Charles Melton isn't a name that I see regularly in the Vancouver market but I'll think I might just need to keep an eye open for it.

We didn't have nearly enough time with Miss Jaq before she had to depart. We'd hoped she'd be able to join us for a late lunch or early dinner but she had to pay her respects to other friends. We carried on with our day with her in mind though, dining on mussels. Boo and I will always wax fondly about a marvellous dinner of môules-frites (mussels and fries) that we had with Miss Jaq in a quaint coastal town in Holland some years back. To this day, it seems we can't order mussels without her name coming up - and that's definitely a good thing.

1984.  2011 Larkmead - Lillie Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley - California)

Knowing that there aren't many bottles left to be added to The List before we hit the big 2001, I thought we should splurge a little and pull the cork on one the bottles we'd picked up during our drive down the West Coast to San Fran a couple of years back. With so many wineries located in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and only a couple of days for touring, we had to rely on recommendations as to which wineries to prioritize - more than a couple of folks spoke highly of Larkmead.

Although I'd never heard of the winery before, it has quite the history. The vineyard was originally owned by Little Hitchcock Coit - the very woman that the landmark Coit Tower in San Fran was named for. The winery website doesn't provide much information but the Napa Wine Project says that "before prohibition, they were considered one of the four great wineries in Napa Valley along with Beaulieu, Inglenook (now Rubicon) and Beringer." Our tasting at the winery was very relaxed and informative, especially as our discussion covered the history of the Napa and of Lillie, the woman, as much as it did the wine.

The winery produces largely Bordeaux-styled wines and Lillie is a nod to Sauv Blanc utilized in Bordeaux whites. I'm rather unexperienced with Bordeaux whites - indeed, I don't even know if they qualify as appellation wines if they don't contain Semillon - but this was indicative as neither Sancerre, nor New Zealand. I wouldn't say that it was unique enough to merit its own category of Sauv Blanc either. We must have been swept up in the romance and stories during our tasting at the winery because the wine didn't impress us as much on this occasion. I didn't find the complexity or flavour that I expected - at least not at its rather hefty price point (>$50).

Good thing I'm a pretty happy guy with almost any chilled, white wine when it's accompanying mussels - with or without Ms. Jaq at the table.